My perspective on the 2014 HSC English Advanced

I prepared students for the following texts this year:

Module A

A room of one’s own / Whose afraid of Virginia Woolf

Blade Runner/ Frankenstein

Module B


Gwen Harwood


Cloud Street

Board of Studies Speeches


Module C

Julius Caesar

History and Memory


Area of Study

The Namesake

Immigrant chronicle

Romulus My Father

Emily Dickenson

I was thankful for this years 2014 HSC English module’s paper, as were most of my students. The paper was clearly composed to ensure against pre- prepared answers. It was also interesting to note that the questions in each case stressed the students’ own understanding of the core ideas.

(Please refer to my blog on how to get a band 6)


Module A

Blade Runner and Frankenstein

On the desire for human recognition

The question was an excellent one, which required students to acknowledge the enduring characteristics of human folly and behavior and any ideological correlation between contexts. Students would have needed to consider how and why the respective contexts give rise to the unleashing of hubris and other Machiavellian pursuits. More advanced students may have considered the devaluing of the Monster, Replicants and JF Sebastian as a consequence of economic pragmatism and social discrimination. The question would have necessitated a consideration of visual and literary features on the physical and psychological profiles of Shelley’s world and Ridley Scott’s.


 A room of One’s Own and Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

On the need for personal recognition.

What a wonderful question! A quick reflection on how and why both texts explore the need for personal recognition would have allowed you to consider the interplay between social convention and economics and their respective representation in both texts. During my workshops I continually stressed the importance of freedom of expression and the liberation from the shackles of convention as key ideas that ran through both texts. Again students who prepared narrowly and prescriptively on Patriarchal domination without really

Reflecting on the many subtleties of both texts or again, without walking in the shoes of all the characters would have missed the great source of depth which otherwise may have been explored.



Module B


Close Study of text.

On the complex nature of revenge and it’s enduring relevance

The Hamlet question was brilliant.

The question demanded an intimate knowledge of the play, it’s genre; as a revenge tragedy, a deep and complex exploration of Hamlet’s personal and public world and, of course the conflicting Renaissance and religious values of the Elizabethan world.

Students who rote learned generic essays or cut and pasted class notes without any real exploration of the text will have been severely disadvantaged.

For the past number of years I have noted an increasing tendency by students to skim the surface of Shakespearian texts or worse still, watch cinematic interpretations on Shakespeare’s plays without having read nor analysed the play in the first instance.

Too much emphasis has been given to critical material, or deference to the interpretation of others without students seeking to develop their own insights firstly.

To develop effective insights students must not only be familiar with the ideas, characterization and themes but must be encouraged to walk in the character’s shoes to understand the power of any of Shakespeare’s plays

A close reading of the text can only achieve this, which is the purpose of this module.


You may recall my blog on Hamlet that I put up before the HSC module examination. Anyone reading this blog before hand would have been well prepared.


Gwen Harwood

On the complex nature of life’s journey and it’s enduring relevance.

The complex nature of life’s journey is a key idea which runs right through Harwood’s anthology. Any student, who attended my workshop, would have been well prepared.

A consideration of what you thought and think is complex about life’s journey may have included- the loss of innocence, the ephemeral nature of life itself, the importance of memory, grief and love. All of these ideas bring forth enduring relevance.


The specifying of a particular poem is an excellent way for examiners to catch- out students who have not prepared adequately. Like any close study of text – all poems in an anthology are relevant to study.

Perhaps the time has come for students to return to a study of their texts and familiarise themselves with the beauty of the text and it’s detail rather than trying to predict questions that are now thankfully impossible to prepare for.

The question is not a difficult one as it allows broadly for interpretation, which must be at the heart of any study on poetry.



On the complex nature of inspiration

Again like all the modules great emphasis has been placed on the student’s personal view. This is terrific, as I have waged a constant war to have students provide their opinion and forgo critical opinions until, they have determined their own.

This question would have enabled students to talk about Yeats’s love of the natural world in Wilde Swans at Coole, When you are Old as well as his more political poetry such as The Second Coming. In short the personal and public world of Yeats is filled with lamentation and a bitter- sweet mood, which permeate so much of his passion and the inspiration behind his poetry.


Cloud Street

On the complex portrayal of family life

A good question but not too difficult as it really allowed students to consider the precarious nature of life, human vulnerability, the quest for meaning, tragedy and the myriad of life’s ups and downs. The enduring quality of the text should have been clear to see because of the profound way Winton injects the very souls of his characters into our hearts.


Board of Study Speeches

On the complex nature of national identity

I also liked this question very much as national identity is inseparable from historical and cultural context; and the texts reception in different contexts lies at the heart of all Module B questions.

Once again the board of studies ensured that there was “no rock left unturned”, and chose two of the set texts. Those students who studied all their speeches will have had a distinctive edge over those who tried to predict and pre- prepare answers. Please refer to my website on FAQ questions –I have written specifically on this matter.


Module C

History and Memory

The text that prevails is a function of power rather than truth.

The fiftieth Gate

The question was a probing one and forced students to consider history as part of a dominant discourse, which does not always reflect the individual truths of survivors. Students would have needed to understand the post -modern implications behind the nature of Historical fact and truth. The voiceless, the edited and the interrupted lives of those who have perished have too often been neglected. Any student who received this question was given the latitude to produce a compelling and meaningful discussion on the contribution of history and the importance of memory to all of our lives. . Please refer to my previous blog on how to achieve a band 6 under module C.


Julius Caesar

The version that prevails is a function of power rather than truth.

The power of representation and the difficulty in discerning truth lies at the core of this question and module. Students would have needed to explore how values and context are often inextricably linked to the power of representation by drawing on the nature of characterisation and linguistic devices In the words of Cicero “ men may construe things clean from the purpose of the things themselves “ the truth remains illusive and ultimately subject to the power of interpretation.

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